Why naughty needs a time-out!

Why naughty needs a time-out! 150 150 Jane Evans

Should anyone still be calling children naughty? 

If you aren’t a fan of naughty, or sending children to the step, chair or thinking cloud of shame, there’s some good news…Unless you are Piers Morgan, who on hearing about the move in early years away from the use of naughty, tweeted:

‘So now we can’t even call kids naughty when they’re being naughty? What a pathetic joke. We’re wrecking our children’s chances of surviving & thriving in adult life, in the real world.’

Working with children, hopefully its now fully accepted that they shouldn’t be called, bad or naughty. Also let’s be clear, that saying what they did was bad or naughty isn’t a better option as young children struggle with such a subtle difference. They’ll simply get a sense of having done wrong, and therefore feel they are wrong. Best to erase bad and naughty from the vocabulary then there’s no temptation to reach for such a useless play on words. 

Is naughty on the way out in nurseries and early years?

The recent survey of nursery and early years professionals by daynurseries.co.uk revealed that calling children naughty, and the use of the ‘naughty step’ in settings, is FINALLY on its way out. A bit late in the day as it IS the 21st century and we’ve had bucket loads of neuroscience showing children do well in connection with caring adults, but are soon stressed and distressed when isolated from them. But real progress for children’s mental wellbeing.

Its been a long time coming! Back in the 1940’s Ainsworth and Bowlby began uncovering the importance for a child’s healthy development of attachment. And of course, even our ancient ancestors instinctively knew to keep children close, as something would have eaten them. In fact there are still people around the world who’d be horrified at the idea of any child being left alone whatever they have or haven’t done. Human babies were given the ability to cry so they could call for help to preserve them.  At any age, we all do better if we can be brought back to safety by a caring other.

“The research by daynurseries.co.uk also found three in five staff don’t agree with using a thinking chair or naughty step in their nursery for managing bad behaviour.

Just over a quarter of nursery staff do use this as a method for controlling children’s behaviour, with 74 per cent rejecting it.”

Whilst I’m glad to hear isolation and labelling children as ‘naughty’ is allegedly on the decline in early years. I’m not entirely sure why something so fundamental as the concept of NOT isolating and shaming PRESCHOOL aged child has taken over 70 years to integrate it into practice.

Is a thinking cloud a better option?

Unfortunately, the rest of the  daynurseries.co.uk article doesn’t leave me feeling as optimistic. There’s talk of, thinking clouds, giving children time away to reflect, calming areas, thinking time and yes still some ‘short’ time outs

Here are FOUR large flaws with these.

  1. They’re all mean things to do to children of any age but ESPECIALLY little ones (which they sense but can’t understand)
  2. All have a negative impact on the child concerned and the others around them, who feel anxious about being that child and are stressed by the negative energy around it 
  3.  Children under 7 don’t have the brain development to reflect or think about what they’ve done, or the why behind it. The conscious, reflective, thinking mind only starts to come online around 6-7 years of age
  4. Children get more stressed once they are physically and emotionally disconnected from the adults they rely on for safety and kindness.

This part of the article says it all,

“Most children do not like the thinking cloud and usually just the mention works. As we know all children are different and for some children it’s the proverbial water off a duck’s back. These children usually have to then hold the practitioner’s hand for the one or two minutes.”

Early years practitioners are VITAL to children’s healthy development

I worked for years as a childminder, early years practitioner, early years foster carer and with many, many families with early years children. I’m going to confess that as a childminder, about 10 years ago, I did have a thinking step. It was rubbish and always upset one child in particular, the one whose behaviour challenged me the most. In fact, the child who was most traumatised, although I definitely did NOT understand it back then. 

I had to think again and eventually realized that children don’t do naughty things. They do children things that we call naughty, bad, unacceptable, and all that crap. After all their brains aren’t fully formed until they are nearly 30 years old so they WILL make mistakes!!

Over time I moved to extra kindness, connection and time working out with them ways they could feel safer and therefore cope better. This seemed to be what they needed most, to feel safe, accepted and have opportunities to learn. I wasn’t perfect, but I was determined to use the neuroscience, attachment theory and research, neurophysiology, neurobiology in my work with and for children.


Change is ALWAYS possible and starts with understanding…

Now I get the very real pleasure of sharing all the science behind children’s behaviour and all they have taught me for 28 years, at various early years conferences and training days. Progress is slow. Mindsets around children’s behaviour being an emotional and physical state of unsafety, and therefore a safety need, rather than naughtiness, isn’t always the easiest thing I’ve had to sell. But it is essential I continue to. 

Those who work in early years honestly work VERY hard indeed. It’s psychologically intense, physically and emotionally full on for hours and hours and hours. They support the early crucial development of children with increasingly complex needs arising from the miss match between children’s developmental needs and 21st century living.

We need to ensure the training, pay and emotional support early years professionals receive is second to none. Currently all of this is nowhere near the levels it should be. Then we must have policies that mean no child is ever told off, put on the sad cloud, or moved down the reward board, sent to reflect, or given the look.

Failing to ensure time-outs, and the idea of naughty behaviour, become things of the dim, distant past, means we continue to fail children. Which, when we do scientifically know better, is NOT OK. Focus needs to be on creating early years environments of unconditional acceptance, where all behaviour is automatically seen as communication of a need and the only solution is offering safety. And then later on exploring feelings and alternatives, whilst always holding a heart full of love and hope for every child.  


Jane Evans

Jane is a ‘learn the hard way’ person. She has learnt from her personal experiences and her direct work with people who have often been in really bad places emotionally, relationally, practically and sometimes professionally.

All stories by: Jane Evans

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